FRONTIER.Eric Ambler. Mysterious Press. 279...

THE DARK

February 24, 1991|By BOB BAYLUS JEWELS OF OUR FATHER. Kristy Daniels. Fawcett. 438 pages. $4.95 (paperback). | BOB BAYLUS JEWELS OF OUR FATHER. Kristy Daniels. Fawcett. 438 pages. $4.95 (paperback).,LOS ANGELES TIMES RUMPOLE A LA CARTE. John Mortimer. Viking. 246 pages. $18.95.

THE DARK FRONTIER.

Eric Ambler. Mysterious Press. 279 pages. $5.95 (paperback). A curiosity -- and a must for the mystery faithful -- is the first paperback edition of Eric Ambler's first espionage thriller, "The Dark Frontier." Written in 1935 and published the next year, it now includes a preface added by Mr. Ambler in 1989, explaining his remarkable prescience in having the plot turn on a small nation's building of what he called an atomic bomb. (No prescience, he says; he simply liked to read scientific journals, and the possibility was all there.)

The story, intended as something of a spoof of the works of E. Phillips Oppenheim, John Buchan and others, is a busy and engaging tale of a mild scientist who, hit on the head, comes to as a dashing James Bondian figure. He finds himself en route to Ixania as the semi-prisoner of a mysterious arms dealer, but convinced that he alone must destroy the secret of the bomb to save the world. It's a romp, although with hints of the harder line that Mr. Ambler was to take in the later novels. Great fun, after 55 years.

Those who watch the splendid PBS series "Mystery" know Rumpole's chronicles as a delicious staple of their viewing diet. For those who have not had the pleasure, Horace Rumpole is the portly, Wordsworth-loving, cigar-smoking imbiber of Chateau Thames Embankment and defender of the downtrodden against the forces of righteousness -- or at least the law.

In "Rumpole a la Carte," he returns for six new adventures. From his wife, Hilda ("She Who Must Be Obeyed"), to Judge Graves (whose sentences reflect his name), the same quirky cast of characters is there to try not only Rumpole's legal acumen but also his patience.

While the stories are titularly mysteries, what's most fascinating is watching Rumpole wryly dissect his opponents. Whether it is defending an insufferable chef from a health department infraction while trying to keep a colleague from winding up in divorce court for a marital indiscretion or prosecuting a case while helping out the helpless defense, he is as irascible as ever.

This is the second paperback book by the husband-and-wife journalists Daniel Norman and Kristy Montee. Novices are always advised to write what they know, and once again Kristy Daniels )) writes about newspapers.

"Jewels of Our Father" follows the life of the San Francisco Times and the family that owns it, from the patriarch Adam Bryant to his three children (with three different mothers), who inherit it and squabble over its future.

This is typical trashy-novel stuff with a newspaper theme. There's the evil older brother, Ian; the willful sister, Kellen; the misguided youngest child, Tyler; and their myriad loves and adventures. It's "Dallas" with a newspaper empire instead of Ewing Oil.

This book is somewhat better than the couple's first book, "Hot Type." The editing is better and the writing is more imaginative. But again, there is so much "inside" newspaper stuff I wonder how broad an audience this book, like the first, can attract. Sure, I'm interested in how newspapers have changed from the turn of the century, with the shift from afternoon to morning publication, from huge, noisy Linotype machines to fancy computers, from crime and scandal to more sedate suburban focus. But does anyone else out there care?

Kristy Daniels isn't anywhere near the level of Krantz, Collins or Steel in the trashy-novel genre. There's not nearly enough frivolous sex and surprises. Still, it's enjoyable enough reading.

KASEY JONES

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